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Dave Stockton and his wife, Cathy, pose with the Wanamaker Trophy after his triumph at Southern Hills in 1970. (Photo: AP)
Dave Stockton and his wife, Cathy, pose with the Wanamaker Trophy after his triumph at Southern Hills in 1970. (Photo: AP)

Stockton went from 'unknown' to PGA Champion in 1970

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When a relative 'unknown' Californian named Dave Stockton won the 1970 PGA Championship title, he defeated not only a tough test in Southern Hills Country Club, but a legion of fans pulling for their hero, Arnold Palmer, as well.

By Brett Avery, PGATOUR.COM Contributor

He beat one of the biggest players in the game, making himself a recognizable figure for the rest of his life. Yet his reward was the shortest reign in PGA Championship history.

Dave Stockton thwarted a final-round challenge from Arnold Palmer to win the title in 1970 at Southern Hills Country Club. Much to the dismay of most of the audience, this matinee story line played out as the 28-year-old (described as "a young turk" in newspaper stories) winning out over the 40-year-old idol.

It was a tough outcome for many people to accept. Here was Palmer, ready to place the final piece in his career Grand Slam, six years removed from a major triumph (the 1964 Masters), when Stockton interrupted the processional.

Entering the final round with a three-shot lead and paired with Palmer and Raymond Floyd, Stockton vowed, "I'll bury the course." A closing 73 might not exactly qualify, although he holed an improbable wedge shot from 120 yards at the 385-yard seventh for eagle and a seven-shot lead that all but buried Palmer.

Stockton vaulted out of the pack during Saturday's third round, a relative unknown from Westlake, Calif., who had played precious little junior golf before going to the University of Southern California on a golf scholarship. His 4-under 66 missed becoming the course record by about an hour when Floyd, playing well ahead in the pairings, came home in 65.

The defending champion, Floyd began the third round tied for 19th. But he battled through oppressive 100-degree heat to take two shots off the course record, which had survived since the 1958 U.S. Open.

Stockton made seven birdies of his own, kicking things off with a 4-footer at No. 1 and a tap-in at No. 3. He ran down a number of important putts throughout the day and joked with writers after the round about his thin resume -- the Colonial National Invitation in 1967 and victories the next year in Cleveland and Milwaukee.

"You know, they called me an unknown in the papers this morning," Stockton said. "That's pretty good putting for an unknown."

Anyone who knows Stockton can hear his personality in those two sentences.

There are times his fiercely competitive nature took over -- he was U.S. Ryder Cup captain in 1991, the infamous "War by the Shore" at Kiawah Island.

One of those episodes came to light in the 1970 PGA. Stockton's lead was still more than a fistful when he drove into trees at the 13th. His escape went awry and splashed into the pond fronting the green.

"One of Arnie's fans hollered, 'Go get him, Arnie,'" Stockton told reporters after the round. "This made me hot. Arnie wasn't going anywhere. I was so mad I wanted to hole my wedge shot and take the ball and jam it down the guy's throat."

Instead, Stockton knocked the wedge shot to 2 feet and canned the putt for a bogey, surrendering only one shot and keeping the lead to four.

Palmer was unable to use the putter with any effectiveness throughout the week, struggling through 32 putts in the third round. It thwarted any opportunity to make a charge, with Palmer gaining ground over the final nine holes not on the strength of his own birdies (he made one) but largely on the basis of Stockton's errant shots.

The Californian made inconsequential bogeys at the 15th, 17th and 18th, sandwiched around saving par at the long 16th following a drive that clipped a tree branch.

Palmer completed his 13th PGA once again settling for a runner-up finish, as he had in 1964 at Columbus CC (to Bobby Nichols, a Californian) and in 1968 at Pecan Valley CC in San Antonio (to Julius Boros). Southern Hills was his last top-10 in the event.

Stockton went on to greater fortune, winning 10 official PGA TOUR titles, capped by the 1976 PGA's first-ever Monday finish at Congressional CC outside Washington, D.C. Unlike at Southern Hills, this time Stockton canned a 10-footer at the last green to deny Raymond Floyd and Don January their chance at a playoff.

Stockton ramped up his game again when he reached age 50. He captured 14 titles on the Champions Tour, among them two Senior Players (1992 and '94) and the 1996 U.S. Senior Open. And in 1996 he joined his sons in establishing a TOUR record with each of them playing in different events on the same week: Dave at the FHP Health Care Classic, Dave Jr. in the Doral-Ryder Open and Ronnie at the Inland Empire Open on the Nationwide Tour.

And that shortest reign at PGA champion? The PGA of America decided to take the 1971 tournament to its home base at PGA National GC in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. Not wanting to challenge the oppressive heat and humidity of South Florida in August -- not to mention the hazards of hurricane season -- the PGA was played Feb. 25-28. A little more than six months after winning the Wanamaker Trophy, Stockton turned it over to Jack Nicklaus. But it was a sweet ride while it lasted.

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